iPad® in Aviation: Mastering the Human Factors
As pilots, we are very fortunate to be experiencing the advent of the iPad in aviation. Never before in the history of flight has so much information been available in such an accessible medium. If you think about it, it's probably a similar feeling to what pilots experienced when Capt. Jeppesen first produced an airway manual. Valuable, usable, concise information, in an easy to carry package, designed with the pilot in mind. And the information was presented in a visually pleasing format that made the complex simple.
The iPad has the potential to deliver an even greater experience, but it must conform to your needs and make your tasks easier. Here are some tips from the human factors perspective to make the iPad an asset to your piloting instead of a liability.
1. Use Intuitive Apps
Believe it or not, technology like the iPad can be a double-edged sword when it comes to a pilot's performance. For example, a digital list of charts for an airport puts a great deal of quickly accessible information at your fingertips. However, that list of chart titles can easily become a hunt for a needle in a haystack. In this situation, having an application that categorizes your charts so that you can navigate to the exact chart you need within seconds can be a lifesaver. Using innovative, user-centered applications like Mobile FliteDeck can be a big step toward counteracting information overload.
2. Train for Using the iPad
It is also important to train yourself on the features of your iPad applications to make sure you aren't learning them for the first time while you are flying the airplane. It doubtful that you learned to read a Jeppesen chart for the first time while flying an ILS, so take time to learn the system on the ground until you are comfortable with the workflow.
3. Preflight the iPad
You wouldn't hop into an airplane and taxi to the runway without doing a preflight check and looking at critical items such as fuel, control surfaces and oil, would you? The same thinking should be applied to the information that you will use for your flight. Make certain that you can access the information you need without network connectivity by putting the iPad in Airplane Mode while you are still on the ground. You can "preflight" your charts and data to ensure that you have what you will need to complete the flight. One of the heaviest workload periods in a flight is the approach, and when ATC sidesteps you to a LOC on the parallel runway probably isn't the best time to find out that you don't have the chart.
4. Limit Head-down Time and Distraction
One of the most troublesome human factor problems that we face as pilots is the tendency to fixate and let one source of information dominate our scan. It takes many hours of instrument training with an instructor to build up a good scan - and that was without an iPad. Now that charts, weather, manuals, calculators, email and even Facebook are all competing for your attention, you have to make some conscious decisions about how to maintain a safe and disciplined scan. You can start by establishing a cue for when to look up from the iPad. Many instructors have been teaching "three taps then look up." This is an excellent way to avoid fixation. Another important practice is turning off non-essential notifications and applications while in the cockpit. That way you eliminate potential distractions before they happen.
5. Understand the Limits of the Information
Much of what we've been talking about here is covered in principals of Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM) and Single-Pilot Resource Management (SRM). An important part of ADM and SRM is knowing what information is available and its intended use. For example, you may have what appears to be a five minute old snapshot of NEXRAD returns. As most pilots know, radar is an invaluable tool in avoiding thunderstorms. So using that data to understand the general location of thunderstorms is an aid to good decision making. However, as was outlined in the NTSB's recent Safety Alert, NEXRAD information is a composite of multiple radar sites, and the actual age may be 15-20 minutes older than what is timestamped on the image. That is long enough for a thunderstorm to move right over the airport you thought was in the clear. So, additional information such as AWOS observations, a call to Flight Watch, or ARTCC may need to be used to reach a good decision.
The iPad also provides the ability to show information about your aircraft position, using a built-in or external GPS receiver. Again, this information can be a tremendous aid to a pilot. Jeppesen recently conducted a study with a business aviation operator involving aircraft position (own-ship) on airport diagrams where pilots reported improved positional awareness during taxi operations.
However, these position indications can cause confusion if they vary from primary instrument readings. Additionally, complacency can set in if these position depictions are too heavily relied upon. Either condition can result in an unsafe increase in workload when the going gets tough. As a remedy, consider occasionally disabling these position features in your apps, flying with only the certified panel-mounted instruments and using the iPad charts without an own-ship. This will help keep your focus on the right sources of navigation information.
By taking a few steps to ensure you and your iPad are ready for flight, you can take advantage of the wealth of information and capabilities that these new technologies provide. And you'll be enjoying a usable, concise, easy to carry flight bag just like Capt Jepp would have wanted.
About the Author
Jeff Williams is a human factors engineer and pilot. As a member of both the Mobile FliteDeck design team and the Standards team at Jeppesen, he is passionate about creating products that are user-centered and uphold the high standard that pilots expect from Jeppesen. Jeff also works closely within the industry and with regulators to help usher in the new era of tablet-based EFBs.